Today was a brilliantly sunny day, and women gathered for a press conference and rally to speak out against Motion 312, which seeks to redefine personhood prior to the completion of the birthing process. They said “The Handmaid’s Tale was supposed to be fiction”, and yet every day, the constant threat to women’s rights is pushing our society further in this dystopian direction. For those who are unfamiliar with this literary reference, it is a work of fiction depicting a world in which women are systematically stripped of all their rights and individual identities, and indoctrinated into becoming human incubators and concubines (called handmaids) who are at risk of being destroyed if they fail to reproduce. Given the current political climate in terms of women’s rights in Canada — that the motion is even being put to a vote instead of being struck down by the Prime Minister who insists he’s against re-criminalizing abortion — many feel, legitimately I might add, that we are on the very brink of where this work of fiction becomes a reality. The proposal for Motion 312 crossed the line, and the only way to move forward as a nation who respects half of its total population is to shout out against it and tell our members of parliament to vote against it. If it isn’t voted down, that will speak volumes to how little women are valued in this country.
So I went to the rally, holding a sign that asked “Who is the patron saint of misogyny?” I met people who I’ve been organizing for reproductive rights with. I listened to their wisdom, and I nearly cried when one of the women from the original abortion caravan spoke about how she needed to face an all-male panel to plea for the right to access just one safe abortion, and was told at its conclusion that she will receive a letter in two weeks stating that she will not be approved. She was 17 years old and living without the support of her family. It put a chill down my arms, because I became homeless within 6 months after my 18th birthday, and if she hadn’t driven across the country and chained herself to parliament, I wouldn’t have had access to oral contraceptive in my most vulnerable adult years. And when I was 17, when I was afraid to access oral contraceptive but convinced I was in love and going into bed with my lover, I was absolutely terrified of getting pregnant. I went out of my way to make sure it didn’t happen (short of abstaining entirely, which I also managed to do for years at a time, as currently). At that time in my life, I knew I would abort immediately if I ever became pregnant, but I had no idea just how much it took for women of the previous generation to even give me that option.
An anti-choice heckler appeared, and began shouting “What about the rights of unborn children?” A number of people took action to redirect his attention, and he kept going back to shouting in between displays of his abortion porn (care of the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform) on a brand new touch screen tablet PC. I turned to face him, determined to make sure he just goes away. I walked towards him and asked “Why don’t you promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate?” He actively ignored me. I said “Why don’t you promote safer sex?” He continued to actively ignore me. Another man stepped into the conversation, actively ignoring me, and asking why the two men Mr. Unborn Children’s Rights was conversing with were so opposed to his freedom of speech. I said “Not all ideas are equal. Racism is not equal to anti-racism.” Mr. Freedom of Speech actively ignored me. I kept on the two of them until well after the rally was over, but Mr. Freedom of Speech dispersed very shortly after making his appearance, when a woman saying “Excuse me” gently put a hand on his upper arm. Mr. Freedom of Speech seemed to think this was an assault — one wonders if he would be predisposed to call 9-1-1 on a little old lady doing the same to ask him to take her across the street, if that’s the case.
Here’s a list of things I repeatedly asked Mr. Unborn Children’s Rights while he insisted I look at his CCBR abortion porn:
- “Why don’t you have your own press conference instead of derailing and trolling this one?”
- “Is life sacred?”
- “Why don’t you work in the foster care system and fix it?”
- “Why don’t you promote safer sex?”
- “Why don’t you promote adoption agencies?”
- “Why don’t you promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate?”
- “Do you eat meat?”
- “Do you have beef broth with your dinner?”
- “Do you eat eggs for breakfast?”
- “Do you eat chicken?”
- “Do you eat steak?”
- “Do you eat pork chops?”
- “Isn’t all life sacred?”
- “Are you vegan?”
- “Aren’t women’s lives sacred?”
- “An hour ago, you said the human heart starts beating 14 days after conception and now it’s 24 days. Does this change every hour?”
- “If you love children so much, what are you doing for them by being here?”
- “Do you have any idea how ridiculous you’re making yourself look here?”
- “What is your presence here doing for your own movement?”
- “What is your presence here doing for children?”
- “When is a person’s life no longer sacred?”
- “Does the sanctity of life not include women?”
- “Why are you opposed to women’s rights if you believe all human life is sacred?”
…and so on.
Literally all Mr. Unborn Children’s Rights had to say was “look at this”, pointing at the CCBR abortion porn on his tablet; “I would adopt a child right now if it would stop any one of the people here from having an abortion”; and the real kicker, that he volunteers for an adoption agency but doesn’t remember which one. Yeah. Sure you do.
He actively avoided even acknowledging that I had said anything, and persistently redirected his attention towards anyone who walked up to try and heckle him off the block. He actively avoided answering anything they said to him, either. This is his tactic — indeed, it is the preferred tactic of the entire movement he subscribes to — just not answering anything that threatens to demand the same rights for women as he demands for the unborn children who are yet to be conceived in those women. He very boldly told a woman that if she conceives, the body inside her belongs to someone else. And he insisted on speaking in third-person plural when he answered me, as if he was speaking for the entire CCBR. I told him that I am asking him, as an individual, these questions. That unless he has a baby in his belly, there is no “we” in this conversation between us. I told him he’s just pro-pregnancy. I got very angry, very loud, and right up in his face until everyone else gave up trying to talk to him. He finally left, and I continued to shout after him, “Why don’t you promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate? Why don’t you stop airing your hatred of women?”
And I will get just as angry and loud if they come back. Non-violence isn’t a synonym for pacifism, and the “pro-life” discourse is inherently violent towards women.
That’s when I met a leader in the pro-choice movement and a 20-year veteran of reproductive rights activism in BC. That meeting was invigorating and inspiring. It’s been very challenging to step up even just once a week for the past few months, and here was a woman who stepped up every day for 20 years. She helped raise money to open one of Vancouver’s first abortion clinics, where women are handled with care and compassion through this often difficult personal decision. She told me that in the 70s, activists used to make buttons that said “Citizenship for Sperm!” She is a wealth of knowledge, experience, and insight, and I am privileged to have made her acquaintance today. We laughed about different tactics, in-fighting and group politics, and Gordon Watson. And then the most amazing thing happened: I received a phone call from a local paper, about my press release. I’m keeping my hopes high for the time being that they publish a story on it.